Can South Charlotte fix

Sharon Road and Fairview Road? 

More and more pockets of walkable Urbanism continue to sprout up across Charlotte offering a highly desirable lifestyle to Millennials as well as aging Baby Boomers.  At the same time, it is becoming more humiliating for South Charlotteans to struggle through the suburban traffic nightmare of their placeless main-and-main crossroads of Sharon Road and Fairview Road - a legacy of 20th century suburban sprawl on steroids.

Almost everyone I speak to thinks it’s impossible to fix, and suggests the only solutions capable by the Department of Transportation are to either:

1. Insert a "Complete Streets" retrofit so pedestrians have a better chance to cross.  This strategy includes islands-of-refuge between lanes of cars and new bike-lanes. But folks know that meanwhile traffic will just gets worse. Andthe feeling is since everyone in South Charlotte drives everywhere anyway, folks say why bother?

2. Construct a more traffic-focused engineered solution including a grade-separated super-structure to keep the cars free-flowing. This includes a pedestrian sky-bridge extending over the whole mess.  Folks can then theoretically walk from Whole Foods to the Mall. This separates the pedestrians from cars but also from shops and greenspace.  Folks wonder who would really want to walk over noisy smelly expressway of traffic when it's much easier to drive?

Time for a new, more civic vision?

What if we look to historic walkable urbanism models that offer a more civic vision?  Take a look at these three options inspired by classic historic squares and circles by Pierre L'Enfant, George Washington's master plan designer of Washington DC in 1791, and Philadelphia’s master planner William Penn in 1682.  While this SouthPark modern intersection is now passé, this centuries-old visions of creating a public realm still work today and are the heart of their communities. 

These new civic visions have advantages:

  1. Allows for tens of thousands of cars daily to quickly slip through Sharon and Fairview without having to stop and wait at traffic lights on their commute, while shuttling kids, going shopping, or running errands.  At the same time the system of local connected streets are traffic-calmed and freed-up for more local car trips at slower safer speeds. This way walkers and bikers also have access to shops, businesses, housing, parks, and open space.

  1. Creates a large central green space in the form of a park square or circle similar to the scale of our center city parks like Bearden Park.  With increasing need for drop-off and pick-up locations convenient to destinations, the local perimeter streets provide substantial length of curb-line frontages.

  1. Offers several more new high-profile development sites for mid-rise commercial, residential, mixed use buildings.  

  1. Provides high-quality connectivity at the center of South Charlotte so that folks can avoid pass-through traffic and stroll, bike, or drive with pleasure to all their favorite shops, stores, restaurants, and gourmet grocery stores.

  1. Establishes a new heart, a missing sense-of-place, a there-there, sorely needed for South Charlotte following the model of the poly-centric city. 

  1. Avoids a perceived disadvantage - the cost.  Consider the number of incredibly valuable development pads replacing just two gas stations, a parking lot, and a Burger King with prime frontage is quite the economic development generator with this new South Charlotte town green.  The value of this sites would likely pay for the entire project.  And the value to South Charlotteans increased quality of life is priceless.


Nurturing and breathing life into a new civic vision isn’t easy.  This idea isn’t an easy fix, but perhaps nurturing rather than panning new ideas of this kind of new civic vision can raise the spirits of South Charlotteans and advance Charlotte’s growth with more civic spaces and a better public realm for all of us to gather.